Why did you choose real estate as a side hustle?
I was a real estate kid. My dad was a developer (residential properties) so I was always exposed to job sites. That, combined with growing up in Atlanta (which has been one of the fastest growing cities in the US for real estate), always intrigued me, even as a kid.
So I got my real estate license as a kind of side hustle. I didn’t really play the role of an agent, but focused more on investment properties, so I would buy 1-2 properties to flip each year. This gave me a little exposure to the industry, and to be honest, it really bugged me to see all of the inefficiencies when it came to home buying and selling. Plus, I was frankly wrapped up in my other full-time job.
Also, I think there’s an inherent interest in us humans to build and create things, and I’ve always had that desire. When you are in real estate, you can practice that. Kind of like with startups.
Why did you decide to make the jump to start your own company?
When I talk to people about starting a company, one of the first things I tell them is “don’t do it to get rich”. That’s not the way to do it. Do it because you’re passionate about the problem you’re trying to solve.
When you work with a big company, the correlation between your output and impact is very low.
I could have busted my ass at work and the output would have been negligible in how it impacted me or the business. I didn’t really like that. I wanted to control my own destiny, even if that destiny is a bit riskier.
One of the best aspects of working at Salesforce was getting exposure to high growth startups that were using the Salesforce platform. This exposure ultimately led me to make a move over to the startup world. I went on to a company called Redox where I was the VP of marketing. I was there for a little over a year, which was a massive year of growth for me. I learned how to build different processes, motivate the team, and got to experience building a business--something you really only get when you work with an early stage company.
For me, all of a sudden I was ready for it. It’s all about accepting the possibility that you might fail and realizing that your desire to succeed exceeds any embarrassment or threat or possibility of failing, then you know you are ready.
What have you learned as a founder - any unexpected skills?
You really have to be extremely comfortable asking for money, which is something I am (and I imagine a lot of founders might be) resistant to doing.
We are often so uncomfortable with it, but we also have this drive to make it work--that (to many) might feel like a crutch. I’ve been surprised by how comfortable I’ve gotten pitching and making an ask. At the beginning it was scary--now, I’ll ask anyone who listens!
You call yourself an older co-founder--how has your age helped or harmed you?
When I started with my co-founder, we were 37 and 39. We both had very good jobs throughout our 20s and 30s and had already saved money, so we weren’t super cash strapped, which really helped. Also, when I was a little younger, I probably was too scared to start. I was seeing my whole life in front of me and the risk probably felt too big. When you’re older, you realize life is short and the desire wins out.
When things go south, what keeps you going?
Experience has shown that every time a downturn happens, a week or two later, something really cool happens. For example, last year we were really struggling with whether we should hire an engineer or spend more on marketing. We had someone that we wanted to hire in mind, but we ultimately had to go in a different direction, which was super disappointing. Literally a month later we ended up getting a small slug of funding from an angel investor and we were able to bring on an intern, who ended up being awesome, and we’ve since brought him on as a full-time employee. Looking back, he’s a much better fit than our first candidate. What was disappointing then is actually working out for the best now.
What is one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as you’ve launched the business?
Real estate is not necessarily a sexy space, and when investors are presented with a cool AI or blockchain tech, it’s hard to get attention over to our tech. We’re not even SAAS. So in contrast to those sexier businesses, it’s sometimes difficult to convey the investment opportunity to investors who aren’t super familiar with real estate tech. The reality is that real estate is one of the hottest verticals right now.
Why did you decide to raise from the crowd?
This was really a fortuitous event. I went to a Founders University event in San Francisco and met 2-3 guys there from Republic. I went to one of their panels and saw how everyone was super jazzed in the room. The thing that hooked me was that equity crowdfunding is not just about the cash, it’s more about the exposure to the crowd and consumers who could potentially be customers. This plus exposure to a broader base of investors.
What is your superpower?
Foresight. I have a very good pulse on where this industry is headed and a good ability to convey that to the team.
What’s your kryptonite?
I’m too nice in the workplace. Sometimes I realize I coddle employees or give people a pass. It’s easy to get disappointed in startups -- you’re always testing and/or failing and/or growing -- so you give people a pass. I’ve come to realize that you have to be hard sometimes, and if you don’t it won’t be good for the company in the long run.
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
I have at least 3 cups of coffee a day, but that’s probably not super weird. I’m a big zero-inboxer, so almost everyday (as my girlfriend often reminds me) I clear my inbox between 10 pm and midnight. It’s the only quiet time of day, so that’s my time to get my inbox down.
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do? What do you geek out about?
I like to flip houses. I’m currently working on flipping a home in downtown Atlanta. It’s a lot of work, but I try to do at least one per year.
I’m also a big bruncher. I used to live in Chicago which is a huge brunch city. They aren’t as into brunch in Atlanta, so literally every weekend, I’ll go out and try to discover a new place. It’s starting to become quite the brunch city.
(If you are in town, check out Cold Brew Bar in Reynoldstown).
I also love college football. Despite attending Georgia Tech, I’m a huge Georgia Bulldogs fan. Hoping this is the year we beat Alabama and win the National Championship! Go Dawgs!
What’s something you wish you knew more about?
SEO! That’s my hot button right now. It’s a huge initiative for us right now and I wish I knew more about it and my goal is to be an SEO ninja within the next 6 months.
What’s the one (ok, two) books you recommend everyone read? Why?
I just read Shoe Dog. To summarize the book in one sentence, it’s about how hard startups are but how rewarding they can be. It’s told the the lens of Nike’s Founder Phil Knight. A must- read!
I also recommend The Lean Startup by Eric Ries and Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don't by Jim Collins. Both are great reads for aspiring founders.
As far as apps and gadgets, I use the Docusign app a lot. It’s not cool at all, but I use it a lot for work. I also love Audible to listen to books on tape, and I’m constantly looking at the Google Analytics app (like multiple times a day). I’m kind of obsessed with watching the site traffic, conversion goals, etc.
If you could give yourself one piece of advice 5 years ago, what would it be?
Don’t panic when small things go wrong and be prepared to take the long road. Everyone thinks that running a startup will bring you overnight success. That’s just not true.
For example, in the early days of the company, there were a few times our website went totally down for 2-3 hours without us noticing. It unfortunately happened a couple of times. That would cause panic. Or, we’ve sent email blasts to 20K people accidentally. Small things that went wrong that made us panic. The trick is to stay calm and look at the big picture (and realize getting there might take time).